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Stroke of True Genius

Guest post by Star Lawrence,

On Memorial Day, I was feeding the pets when I lurched over to the right and could not walk without trending rightward. What the…?

As any overweight, 64-year-old knows from incessant reading and writing of health info, this means it’s your last day on earth.

No problem. I have insurance. I have the kind grudgingly provided by the state for so-called small businesses. It’s $600 a month, with a $3,000 deductible. A trip to the ER is $300 on top of my $7,200 a year.

I cry. I don’t want to pay all this money (at the moment, about 10% of my net worth in life). But the weirdness is not going away. Finally, my kid and I go.

It’s early. They are fresh, nice, and waive the usual 13-hour ER wait typical in Arizona hospitals. They give me an EKG, CT scan, chest x-ray, and blood and urine tests. The doctor watches me walk. One little sidestep to the right.

Clearly, I am told, I need a neurologist. But hey, it’s a holiday. So they are admitting me to the hospital ($800 plus 20% of the bill) overnight until the neurologist, who is contracted and should be on call, to finish his festivities and come by the next day.

I said, if the CT scan is OK, why do I need an MRI? The part of my brain affecting gait, I am told, is hard to see on a CT scan. Well, could I get it now and if it shows anything, get a neurologist on my plan?

No! Their medical advice is to spend the night and if I refuse their advice, I have to pay full price for all the tests I had. In other words, since it’s my right to refuse a procedure, that is fine and good, but if I do, I will be punished with a major walletectomy.

Ironically, my leaving would save the insurance company money, but they will charge me more if I do it.

Genius, right?

I agree to stay. Then I learn that my primary care doctor no longer takes care of his patients in the hospital and I will be admitted by a hospitalist group that I know (from past bad encounters) has been sued. Hospitalists, if you have not met these people yet (lucky you), are doctors who work only in the hospital and like to order tests and look at the results and prescribe things, but I have never been too impressed with their expertise.

What if I was having a stroke? Could this guy take care of me? Would I be lying there, gasping the letters, “tPA”? I lacked confidence, shall we say. (Hold the emails, hospitalists, or I will tell all.)

So unless I agree to pay an even larger overnight bill and stay to meet some neurologist I can never see again because he is not on my plan, I have to pay thousands for the “care” I already got. I called my insurance company, which through some miracle of management, had a live person there on a holiday, and asked about this. No, I was assured, I would only owe the $300.

I left. Then I checked again the next day (still alive, but now with stomach flu). Nope, that was wrong. I will owe the whole amount.

Let me tell you a story. I once had a friend who’s a sound expert who works for rock bands. A restaurant once consulted him about their acoustics. They had metal ducts all over the ceiling painted like flowers. He looked up there. They asked, “What do you suggest?”

“A grenade,” he said. And walked out.

That’s how I feel about the health care system as it stands. It’s enough to give you a stroke and then not cure it.

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